Cultural Graffiti

This is an old, old poem I am revising, as I believe it still has relevance today.  This does have ***FOUL LANGUAGE***  in it (I use a word in here I have never said–ever, and I don’t read this one in public for the same reason), so if you are squeamish about really nasty words, pass this one over.

I am painting over
words on a brick wall.
Old hate sprayed over cortical ridges
leaches through the best whitewashing;

You can hear the old words
in the pause before the new names
are used:

He says
African American/means (you fill in the blank)
says challenged/means cripple
mouths woman
who is girl, chick, broad,
cunt on the half-shell
in the subtext.

Naming is dangerous:
men whose signs say
wait outside the Y
where Betty Friedan speaks,
throw dyke, witch, murderer stones
at my friend & I
who dare move through them

Should I have said something,
should I have shouted back more hate,
should I have said I love babies too,
should I have held her hand,
or should I have kissed her?

No.  I can only
paint over and over
this ugliness.

But I am one woman,
and my arms are heavy.

About Susan L Daniels

I am a firm believer that politics are personal, that faith is expressed through action, and that life is something that must be loved and lived authentically--or why bother with any of it?
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77 Responses to Cultural Graffiti

  1. brian miller says:

    ugh…indicitng poem…the GOD is LOVE but they spew hate…its sad how we have twisted that message…i feel the weight on your arms in this one…we choose love the best we can in those times…even though i want to yell back at them…

  2. Alice Keys says:

    Susan. You hooked me good with this one. Nicely done.

    I want to yell back as well. But yelling back feels like it lowers me. And it doesn’t raise anyone up. My theme for the week seems to be: “It takes two to fight. But it only takes one to forgive.” Peaceful protest works. But at the same time one must speak the truth or risk being complicit. Sigh.

  3. I felt you on this one, a hard line to walk and hatred seems to feed on response. I lived through the little word and know how sharp it can land. Great work.

  4. louisajs says:

    Wow, both powerful and lyrical! I love the last lines especially–makes me think of Sisyphus rolling that stone up the hill. Lovely work.

  5. Susan – reading that this was written decades ago – just made me so sad. Can we have changed so little – maybe gotten worse? But also a call to do what we can even when our arms are heavy. K

  6. As you say Susan, this is sadly still relevant. It needs those words for emphasis I think. It grounds the piece is the cruel reality. Very powerful throughout.

  7. janehewey says:

    Susan, I read this earlier as I was supposed to be leaving to pick up the children from school. There’s so much here, I needed to come back and chew on it some more. You’ve really brought forth the music of a not-so-pretty side of humanity. Besides the relevance as a topic, your structure and form is enviable. Part of me really wishes you would reconsider and read-aloud some day; the other part completely understands why you wouldn’t feel comfortable. Great work.

  8. shanyns says:

    Powerful write here. Really well done.

  9. Renee Espriu says:

    Nice write and will always be appropriate to tell it like it is as some people will never learn.

  10. Powerful poem… hate graffiti is cowardly, coming out at night to spew rubbish that hurts… Strong words…great poem.

  11. Susan fantastic work! I know that pain of wondering what to do and what to say when we are faced with so much hate. It makes it even harder then the hater spouts off as if they are the only ones that deserve “His” love.

    Good to meet your voice!

  12. Wow, hate is so ugly when written isn’t it? I cringed although you wrote it out so well

  13. lucychili says:

    perhaps we need to all go out and graffiti our worlds with poems about life and celebration

  14. kkkkaty1 says:

    …I am familiar with that heavy load in your arms…in more ways than one…this is extremely well done, Susan..

  15. Kathy B. says:

    The care of “on the half-shell/in the subtext”, which would be a fantastic little pairing of prepositions/prefixes/compound words/and just plain sounds (whatever the context), in this context supports the sense of your moral effort and anticipates your closing line.

  16. Kathy B. says:

    P.S. though, I’m not sure I think that word always to be foul. Depends what one thinks of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and other efforts to rescue the body from excessive medical Latin talk.

  17. claudia says:

    oh wow…this is really powerful…made my stomach cringe a bit…i always find it difficult to know what to do..but i think like you say.. def. feeling your heavy arms here

  18. Zouxzoux says:

    Great capture of the essence of thoughtful/meaningful street art. There can be so much more to this art than mere tagging – if only more people got the message.

  19. Great poem, Susan.

    Prompted this comment –

    Naming is dangerous, but also cheap.
    prejudice and hate are prisons,
    their clammy paws spray lurid ugliness
    on the body of non-consenting city walls,
    obscene images, hate messages,
    rages uncaged, intrusions,
    we witness extrusions ugly as rape,
    we see them creeping, spreading
    poisonous parasitic fungi on tired urban walls
    revealing the jungle and darknesses within.
    the message? Hate, discord and despair,
    These triplets, their grips cloud vision,
    clog hearing and choke reason
    as they slowly suck their victims
    to ever resounding and noisy hollowness!

    • Noel, thank you so much for liking this, and your response–what can I say but WOW. The turn of this response rocks, N. The image of hate as something vampiric will stay with me.

  20. hypercryptical says:

    Hatred and intolerance often hides behind the guise of Love and God. Scribbling inflammatory remarks and naming names in the guise of street art is pure cowardice.

    Well written Susan.

    Anna :o]

    • Anna, thank you. I agree that this happens a lot, and it is shameful, shameful. I prefer the honesty of a hate not wrapped in the trappings of faith. I think God hates hate more than we do.

  21. Pingback: The gravity of grafitti – wild hate singing on wide walls | visionvoiceandviews

  22. This is so good. I’m going to have to reblog this

  23. Reblogged this on nobodysreadingme and commented:
    Another of my very occasional reblogs.
    I think this is simply terrific

  24. Reblogged this on cookiedmouse's Blog and commented:
    Reblogged – deserves to be reblogged

  25. Bruce Ruston says:

    Very gritty and real in terms of how some people are

  26. Sheila says:

    for me this was a very moving piece filled with conviction and raw emotion written in a way that transported this reader to the time and place you speak of.

  27. That kind of graffiti is the main reason I love the cleaning crew. To rarely we see good stuff there. Unfortunately large portions of the Internet are the same or worse. Today this can poem can be translated to some web pages of cowardly anonymous hatred.. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Powerful, Susan and your words reflect how indignant you are. 🙂

  29. Tony says:

    When people turn “God is Love” into a message of hate, then it is not you, but they, who have the problem. And I’m with you on the never-ending job of painting over the ugliness – although I think the real answer is have the ugliness transformed into beauty, instead of trying to hide it.

  30. My first thought upon completing the read? “This is a voice of the era.” Without dipping a toe in the pool of maudlin, muddy water, you illustrate social inequity with clarity and personal perspective. You also show us that hatred (fear) is ever-present, but that love, commitment, confidence grow to illuminate its darkness. I love your work.

  31. nelle says:

    I can so hear Natalie Merchant:
    Have I been blind
    Have I been lost
    Inside myself and
    My own mind
    By what my eyes have seen?

    Have I been wrong
    Have I been wise
    To shut my eyes
    And play along
    By what my eyes have found
    By what my eyes have seen
    What they have seen?

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